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07 Aug, Sunday
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Montreal Families

A new take on being a princess

Almost all little girls at some point or another have dreamt about being a princess. Somewhere around the age of 6, they put on that dollar-store tiara and prance around daintily giving faux orders to the dog. And usually a hapless young neighbourhood lad gets tricked into playing the prince and slaying the vacuum cleaner in exchange for some chocolate.

Most girls base their picture of the perfect princess on the fairy tales of yore, many of which have been adapted into storybooks and movies. From Sleeping Beauty to Cinderella and Snow White, all these lovely ladies find themselves in distress, only to be rescued by a dashingly handsome Prince named Charming. He sweeps them off their feet and into a large castle filled with servants and cooks and, let us not forget, some crown jewels.

It’s too bad that most of these stories left out the actual gruesome details of princess hood, like the arranged marriages and beheadings. Fortunately, today’s authors are not afraid to paint a less rosy portrait of what it means to be a princess. And there is even a lesson or two to be learned from these royal divas.

All these books, geared towards ages 4-8, point out that in the 21st century, it is accepted that, tiara or no tiara, we all have a little princess power in us, and that relying on Prince Charming may not always be the solution. They will help little girls tap into their inner princess and let them know that with a little bit of creativity and a whole lot of love, there isn’t anything a girl can’t do!

Princess Smartypants by Babette ColePrincess Smartypants
(Puffin Books, $9.99) By Babette Cole

Irreverent British author Babette Cole has certainly led the pack in redefining what it means to be a princess. Her book, published in 1986, signaled the dawning of a new age of princesses. The heroine, Princess Smartypants, is quite content living with her pets and taking part in activities such as motocross biking and roller-skating, until her parents tell her that she needs to find a husband. Smartypants rebels at the idea and puts each prince who comes to court her through an arduous trial. Her plan works marvellously until Prince Swashbuckle comes along, and triumphs through each task with great aplomb. But just when the prince thinks he has won over the princess, she has one last surprise for him. Cole’s unsentimental tale gives us a princess who is sassy, outspoken and knows what she wants. (As a bonus: Cole has continued the Smartypants series, so readers can chuckle over the Princess’s other adventures too.)

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert MunschThe Paper Bag Princess
(Annick Press, $6.95) by Robert Munsch

In this book, the great and much-loved author Robert Munsch gives us a feminist re-telling of the typical princess story. Elizabeth is a beautiful princess living in a fabulous castle and is all set to marry gorgeous Prince Ronald until a dragon comes and ruins her plan. Not only does he burn down her castle, he kidnaps Ronald as well. With nothing left, not even the clothes on her back, Elizabeth throws on a paper bag and sets out to rescue her prince. After deftly outwitting the dragon, however, she discovers that maybe Ronald isn’t really worth marrying when he turns his nose up at her attire. In a light, humourous way, Munsch shows that what’s important in life is how you act and not what you wear or your status in life.

Princess Backwards by Jane GrayPrincess Backwards
(Second Story Press, $14.95) by Jane Gray

Readers will shake off their old ideas about dainty princesses who play by the rules when they open up this book. They’ll learn about Princess Fred who lives in a kingdom where everything is done backwards. Princess Fred doesn’t like doing everything backwards and when she tries to walk face front or eat breakfast in the morning instead of at night she is taunted. When Marvin the dragon appears, threatening the kingdom, Princess Fred’s forward thinking saves the day. Gray’s simple and charming story illustrates that thinking differently may lead to being misunderstood but that in the end it can also change the way others think as well.

Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut
(Key Porter Books, $9.95) by Margaret Atwood

As far as princesses go, few are as spoiled and self-centered as Princess Prunella. In her first children’s book, Margaret Atwood created a character who is perfectly putrid, as she might say. Prunella is so vain that she can’t walk properly because she is constantly looking in her pocket mirror. She soon receives a lesson in selflessness when a purple peanut grows on her nose and the only way to make it disappear is to do three good deeds. Atwood’s playful language, as she runs the gamut of “p” alliterations, will amuse children while providing them with a moral on the unattractiveness of being spoiled.

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